Harvard Celtic Colloquium 2003

This year’s Harvard Celtic Colloquium is October 10 through 12, with the Vernam Hull lecture on October 9th from Professor Marged Haycock of the Department of Welsh, University of Wales, Aberystwyth. She’s delivering a talk entitled “Text-styles and Textiles in Medieval Wales” at 5:00 p.m., at the Harvard Faculty Club, 20 Quincy Street. The offical web page is here

Proto-Celtic and the 15th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference

The paper topics, and some .pdf abstracts, for the November 7-8 2003 15th Annual UCLA Indo-European Conference are up here. I always try to attend, even though I only understand about 5% (on a good day) of the presentations. This year I’m especially looking forward to Professor Joseph Eska’s “The New Look of Proto-Celtic.” You can read a .pdf abstract of Eska’s talk here. Looks like I better start reading . . .

Medieval Comic Construction Kit

Metafilter brings us this Flash 6 driven “Historic Tale Construction Kit” which allows you to assemble comic style frame-by-frame stories with text and images, add them to a gallery to email them to friends. The images are taken from the Bayeux Tapestry, itself constructed to celebrate the victories of William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Byatt on Modern Fantasy

In a New York Times piece, linked and commented on in Metafilter, author A. S. Byatt mourns the state of current fantasy literature, particularly Rowling’s Harry Potter books. Byatt refers to such books as “secondary secondary fantasy.” According to Byatt:

Ms. Rowling’s magic world has no place for the numinous. It is written for people whose imaginative lives are confined to TV cartoons, and the exaggerated (more exciting, not threatening) mirror-worlds of soaps, reality TV and celebrity gossip. Its values, and everything in it, are, as Gatsby said of his own world when the light had gone out of his dream, “only personal.” Nobody is trying to save or destroy anything beyond Harry Potter and his friends and family…. Ms. Rowling, I think, speaks to an adult generation that hasn’t known, and doesn’t care about, mystery. They are inhabitants of urban jungles, not of the real wild. They don’t have the skills to tell ersatz magic from the real thing, for as children they daily invested the ersatz with what imagination they had.

Essentially, what Byatt is saying, is that she doesn’t like Rowling’s books because they aren’t the sort of fantasy Byatt favors; she then uses her personal taste to bludgeon Rowling’s Harry Potter books, and the taste of those readers who do like them, condemning them as "secondary secondary" fantasy.

She’s missing something rather important. I too very much like Susan Cooper, Diana Wynne Jones (warning, Flash site), Tolkien—and a host of others like them, for instance, Patricia McKillip’s RiddleMaster of Hed, or Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles . . . or, oh heck here’s a page I made. The books Byatt favors, and that I very much like, are derived from or influenced very strongly by medieval Celtic myth, and, in Tolkien’s case, Germanic and Finnish traditions.

Harry Potter is descended from an alternate tradition, that of Victorian children’s fantasy. The tradition includes the books of George MacDonald, E. Nesbit, and the "allegorical" member of the Inklings, C. S. Lewis. Victorian fantasy has as legitimate a pedigree as the Celtic stuff (which also has a Victorian heritage in the the Lady Charlotte Guest translation of the Mabinogion).

Were Byatt to compare Victorian fantasy to Victorian fantasy, she would do better to look to Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, or perhaps Garth Nix‘s Old Kingdom trilogy.

More Bronze Age Graves at Amebury

Remember the Bronze age archer found in Ambury, near Stonehenge? Wessex Archaeology has found six more bodies in the same general area. The radio carbon dating hasn’t been announced yet, but the archaeologists estimate that the bodies are from about 2300 B.C.E. That’s roughly between the end of the Stone age, and the start of the Bronze age. While this grave, which appears to have been closed then reopened for the inclusion of additional bodies, is not as rich in grave goods as that of the archer, the grave does contain four pots in the style associated with the Beaker Culture that flourished during the Bronze Age, some flint tools, a flint arrowhead and a bone toggle for fastening clothing. The combination of a Bronze age pottery style, with a multiple burial grave typical of the Stone age, suggests that the burial took place on the cusp of the two ages.

Pope Beatifies “Father of Cappuccino”

Marco d’Aviano, bron in Aviano, in the north of Italy in 1631, was friar from the Capuchin was beatifued for his efforts to rally Catholics and Protestants on the eve of the Battle of Vienna in 1683, a battle fought as part of an effort to stem Turkish incursion into Europe. He’s not yet been canonized as a saint, but this is the penultimate step in the process.

Aviano is also, on a less Catholic note, famed as the person who inspired cappuccino style coffee. Suppsedly, after the victory, the Viennese discovered sacks of coffee abandoned by the Turks (who imbibed enormous quatities of extremely finely ground coffee brewed in a early version of a drip pot). The Turkish coffee was too intense for the Viennese, who diluted it with cream and honey.

The resulting beverage was a brown colored liquid very similar Capuchins’ robes; hence, the Viennese named it cappuccino in honour of Marco D’Aviano’s order.

I’m not overly excited by cappuccino, though I like it. Personally I favor the carefully selected and roasted Hawaian coffees of Superbeans. I’ve never had better coffee, ever, and the service and choice can’t be beat.